Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Mystery Vegetable

This week's 'little surprise' in the veg box was a Patty-Pan Squash. A bit mysterious, not because I didn't know what it was, but because I'd never cooked one before and wasn't really sure what I was going to do with it. Despite looking a bit like a small yellow pumpkin, the skin is thin and the flesh and seeds are delicate, rather like the inside of a courgette. After some pondering, I decided that risotto was the way to go. I like cooking risotto, there's something quite mindless and therapeutic about it, and boy, do I need mindless and therapeutic at the moment!

With some Parma ham from one of Hubby's bargain hunting missions and some herbs from the garden, it was really rather good. I prefer to use the larger-grained carnaroli risotto rice. Put the stock in a saucepan and keep it hot, but not boiling, at the back of the stove while you cook. My homemade stock is salt-free, so James can eat it, but if you use a prepared stock it won't be suitable for babies.

Risotto with Prosciutto and Patty-Pan Squash

25g butter and a drizzle of olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 patty-pan squash, diced
200g risotto rice
splash of vermouth
fresh rosemary, finely chopped
fresh thyme, finely chopped
800ml hot chicken stock
80g prosciutto, cut into ragged strips
20g fresh parmesan, grated

Melt 15g of butter with a drizzle of olive oil in a deep, heavy frying pan. Soften the onion, then add the diced squash and cook for a moment or two. Tip in the rice, stirring to coat all the grains with the fat. Pour in the vermouth and cook for a minute or so to evaporate the alcohol, before adding the chopped herbs to the pan. Then, still stirring all then time, add a ladleful of chicken stock at a time and allow it to be absorbed by the rice each time before adding the next. After you've put in most of the stock, drop in the bits of prosciutto and continue cooking in the same way.

When the rice is cooked through (test as you go, scooping out a grain of rice with a fork), add the parmesan and the last 10g of butter, cut into pieces. Give it all a good stir, then take the pan off the heat, cover it and leave it for a couple of minutes while you finish off any last minute bits.

We had a salad of Little Gem lettuce to go with the risotto, I think the slightly bitter flavour and the crisp texture make this particular leaf perfect with the starchy rice.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Poets and Pork Chops

Today was the last day of my Mum's visit, as she goes home tomorrow. We drove down the coast to spend part of the day in New Quay, Ceredigion. We had lunch in the beer garden of The Black Lion Hotel , which is reputed to have been a favourite watering hole of poet Dylan Thomas. in fact, a film crew recently descended on the town to make 'The Edge of Love', starring Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller and Matthew Rhys.

Our supper tonight was a simple affair and, as it was pork chops, very popular with Karl. My Mum and I cooked this together - it's one of her 'regulars', but I'd never done it before. I will certainly be doing it again, though. We used a couple of Discovery apples out of the organic fruit-and-veg box and a big spoonful of Rachel's Organic créme fraîche. You might need to add a little more if you use a different type, as this sort is very thick and creamy, much more so than standard supermarket own-brand offerings

Pork Chops in Cider

4 pork chops
1 large onion
2 apples
strong dry cider
sage leaves
créme fraîche

Heat the oven to 200°c and melt a little butter and oil together in a large roasting tin. Slice the onion thickly and turn the slices in the hot fat, then core and slice the apples and add them to the tin. Place the pork chops on top of the apple-and-onion mixture and pour over some cider to come about halfway up the chops. Grind some black pepper over the chops and sprinkle some sage leaves over the top. Bake in the oven for 1 hour. Just before serving, stir in a good dollop of créme fraîche.

I think just simple steamed potatoes and some green vegetables are just right with this, as there is plenty of nice creamy sauce to coat everything. We 'grown-ups' drank some more of the cider with our meal. Christopher and James enjoyed the cider sauce (where the alcohol is cooked out anyway), but drank apple juice and water respectively, don't worry!

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit

People have told me, and you probably agree, that I am completely crazy for making my own baked beans. It started off as something I made for Christopher when he was first eating proper food. Beans of all sorts are a terrific, and very cheap, source of protein, so I got set on the idea of giving him beans on toast as a quick meal occasionally. Bought, tinned baked beans are full of added salt and therefore no good for babies, so I had to figure out a way of making them myself. I'm not at all keen on tinned beans, so I was surprised to find that I really like these. I now regularly make a batch and portion them up in little boxes for the freezer. They stash in there for several months and make a quick lunch for the boys and me to share, a snack for anyone who needs one or even a side dish for something like meatloaf, sausages or chicken drumsticks. These aren't the same as tinned ones; they have more texture and taste rather different. Plus, they're not actually baked, though I have kept the name. Authenticity be damned...

I use dried beans to make this, though you could subsitute several cans of drained and rinsed tinned beans of your choice. Make sure they're salt free if you’re making this for a baby less than 1 year old. The same proviso goes for the stock, though making your own chicken or vegetable stock really is worth it (and very little work). Then you know exactly what's gone into it.

'Baked' Beans

240g dried haricot beans
1 onion, finely chopped
few sprigs fresh thyme

1 tbsp olive oil
400g can chopped tomatoes

2 tsp tomato purée
2 tsp unrefined caster sugar

400ml stock (see above)
2 bay leaves

Soak the beans in cold water overnight. The next day, drain the beans, place in a pan of fresh water and bring to the boil. Boil for 10 minutes, the turn down the heat and simmer for an hour. Drain the beans into a large sieve or colander. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, tip in the onion and thyme leaves and cook until softened. Add the tomatoes and tomato purée to the pan. Cook briefly, then tip in the beans and add the stock. Stir well, adding the sugar and bay leaves. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little water if the sauce reduces too much for your liking. If you’re giving these to a baby, you may need to purée or mash them, depending on the child’s age. My boys ate them without adjustment from just before 9 months.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Saucy Minx

My Mum arrived to spend a few days with us today - and it's a long journey for her - so a good hearty dinner, quick to make, was in order. I always have a big bag of meatballs in the freezer, so last night I took some out to defrost. My recipe for meatballs is here. The tomato sauce can be made in advance too, so I got that out of the way this morning and just reheated it at
suppertime. If I can, I always try to make a big batch like this, because it allows me to freeze a couple of portions for future meals. It's good with pasta, of course, but also consider it over plain grilled chicken or sausages. The herbs I use vary, but today (and most usually), it was a mixture of thyme, rosemary and oregano chopped together to fry with the onion, plus a couple of bay leaves simmered in the sauce.

Tomato Sauce

1 large onion, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
fresh herbs (see above)
400g can chopped tomatoes
142g can tomato purée
100ml milk

Heat some olive oil in a large, deep pan and fry the onion, celery, carrot and herbs together until the vegetables are soft. Add the tinned tomatoes, then blend the tomato purée with 300ml water and pour this into the pan too. Pop in the bay leaves if you're using them, then bring to the boil. Turn the heat right down and stir in the milk. Gently simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, then remove any bay leaves. Cool the sauce quickly if you're cooking it in advance, then store it in labelled containers, in the fridge for a couple of days or for a month in the freezer .

I cooked the meatballs in a 200°c oven for about 15 minutes, putting the pasta (500g tagliatelle for 3 adults and 2 children) into a huge pan of boiling water halfway through that time. I added the cooked meatballs to the reheated sauce before draining the pasta and tossing it all together.

A little grated cheese on top was all we needed with it. I did put the bread on the table, but nobody wanted anything more than their dish of pasta (not even Chris, who is a right little bread face, so that's saying something).

Monday, 20 August 2007

A Good Beeting

This evening we had dinner in the garden. Not so much because the weather was good (though it was at least dry), but because we were having beetroot. I had a sneaking suspicion that small children, beetroot and upholstered dining chairs were not a good mix, to say the least! I've never actually cooked anything with beetroot before, but a bunch of beetroot was included in the vegetable box last Thursday, so I searched out some rubber gloves and (finally) took up the challenge.

Because of my total lack of experience with beetroot, except in its pickled form (yuk) or shredded, raw, in bags of salad, I had to fall back on my cookbook library for inspiration. This recipe comes from It's Raining Plums, the book of Daily Telegraph readers' recipes, edited by Xanthe Clay. I had a feeling this book would be fetched down from the bookshelf more and more now that we're getting the veg box, as it has all sorts of recipes for those native vegetables with a tendency to 'glut', exactly the sort I expect to see in the box during their respective seasons.

Beetroot Gratin

800g beetroot
25g freshly grated Parmesan
150ml double cream (approx.)
butter and fresh breadcrumbs

Bake or microwave the beetroot until tender, and peel (or use 700g ready cooked, unvinegared beetroot). Slice thinly. In a gratin dish (at least 900ml capacity), layer the slices, seasoning well and sprinkling cheese between each layer. Pack the beetroot in tightly, press down well, and scatter over the last of the cheese. Pour over the cream, which should come level with the top of the beetroot. Top with breadcrumbs and dot with butter. Bake at 190°c for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.

The author of this recipe, one Penny Thomson from Diss in Norfolk, writes that "this beetroot gratin is good enough to eat on its own, or you could serve it with simply cooked fish or meat". I agree; I could easily have eaten just a plateful of this. As it happens, I roasted some chicken legs and cooked some peas to go with the gratin, which was definitely the star of the show.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Cupboard Love

Tonight's dinner was one of those look-in-the-cupboard-and-see affairs. Actually, most of our meals over the last few days have been like that. I've often said before that I like this type of cooking and somethimes come up with some really good meals this way.

We fancied pasta of some sort or other and, in sorting out the kitchen cupboards, I've discovered lots of ends of packets, including an open box of lasagne that's been kicking around for ages, so I thought I ought to use it up. Rooting around for something to make a sauce, knowing that traditional Lasagne al Forno was out of the question (no beef), I happened upon a large tin of tuna in the back of the cupboard, so with a few other bits and pieces, this is what I made. I always buy the sort of the lasagne that you don't need to pre-cook but if you prefer to use a different sort, just follow the pack instructions for cooking advice. It's difficult to suggest the number of 'sheets' that you'll need, as it depends on the dish you use. I need 7 to do 2 layers in my dish, breaking one of them in half . Score it with a sharp knife first so that it breaks cleanly.

Tuna Lasagne

For the white sauce:
300ml milk
20g butter
20g plain flour
100ml double cream

Place the butter, flour and milk in a saucepan and bring to the boil, whisking all the time. Turn the heat down and simmer for a few minutes until thickened, then remove from the heat and stir in the cream.

For the tuna sauce:

1 large onion, diced
1 stick celery, diced
400g can tuna in spring water
100g frozen peas, defrosted

Heat a little oil in a large pan and gently fry the onion and celery until soft. Tip in the tuna, alomg with all the liquid from the can and stir well to flake the pieces of fish. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the peas and 100ml water. Season with black pepper. Stir well to mix, bring the contents of the pan to a simmer and then remove it from the heat.

To assemble:

lasagne sheets (see above)
100g mature cheddar, grated
Cover the bottom of a large ovenproof dish with half of the tuna sauce, then top this with lasagne sheets. Pour over half the white sauce, then repeat the layers to use up the rest of the sauces and pasta. Scatter over the cheese and bake for 20 minutes at 180°c.
A green salad was all it needed and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it - definitely one for the repeat list!

Monday, 13 August 2007

Breakfast for Supper

While we were at the butcher's the other day I picked up some sausages, bacon and black pudding. I can only rarely face a full English breakfast; the timing of it all, the mountain of greasy pots to wash and the guilt of eating so much, so early in the day. I do, however, love all the flavours in a 'proper' breakfast, so I like to combine them in evening main meals when I can. I'm a relatively recent convert to black pudding and like all those converted to something late in life, suddenly evangelical about it.

This rice dish (finally) went down very well with all of us and James particularly enjoyed his first little taste of black pudding. I wanted to cook this a couple of days ago but Karl's overdosing on breakfast-related meals put paid to that. The quantities in this can be rejigged as you like; if you want to add some cooked mushrooms, great. I would have done, but I didn't have any.

Breakfast-for-Supper Rice

250g brown rice
1 onion, quartered and sliced
4 sausages, cut into chunks
4 rashers bacon, chopped
100g black pudding, cut into chunks
1 large tomato, diced
2 hardboiled eggs, cut into wedges

Put the rice on to cook. I used my electric rice machine as usual, but do as you like. Heat a little oil in a large frying pan and cook the onions gently, until soft and just starting to colour. Throw in the bacon and sausage and cook through, before adding the pieces of black pudding. The tomato should be stirred in as soon as the black pudding is cooked, then the whole pan (oil and all) tipped into the (drained) cooked rice. Carefully stir in the wedges of egg and serve immediately. Hubby, as a good Sheffield man, likes some Henderson's Relish with his.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Belly Laughs

We've gone without our Sunday roast for the last couple of weeks while we've been on holiday, so today was the day we'd all been looking forward to. I got a slab of belly pork from the butcher the other day. I've used it in cooking before, but never roasted a big piece of it and always wanted to. I asked the butcher to score the skin for me, which he did, then I rubbed freshly ground black pepper and thyme leaves all over the rind and into the slits. I would have added salt, but can't at the moment if I want James to be able to share food with us (and I do).

As well as the usual roast potatoes and assorted vegetables, I made some apple sauce and a tray of Yorkshire Puddings flavoured with sage and onion. My mum made these regularly when I was little; I think it was originally her Mum's recipe. I find that skimmed milk, or half miolk, half water, makes the best Yorkshire puds. You only need one thick slice from an onion for this recipe, so wrap the rest in foil, pop it in the fridge and use it for something else tomorrow. Just don't accidentally give it to your daughter as a mid-morning 'piece' to take to school, eh Mum?

Sage-and-Onion Yorkshires

300ml milk
1 large egg
100g plain flour
fresh sage, chopped
onion, finely diced

Beat the milk and egg together, then beat in the flour with seasoning to taste. Put some fat in the dints of your Yorkshire pudding tin, then heat until sizzling in a 220°c oven. Pour batter into each hollow, then quickly sprinkle a little diced onion and some chopped sage over the surface of each pudding-to-be. Return the tray to the oven and cook the puddings for 20 minutes until risen and golden brown.

Pudding this evening was one of those happy accidents arisen from a kitchen disaster. I tried a new biscuit recipe the other day, which promised crisp, risen biscuits which were hollow inside. Ha! Having followed the recipe to the letter, my result was more like rock hard ginger pancakes. Loath to waste a whole batch of biscuits, I had to come up with something to do with them, and this is it. It's quite gratifying when a dismal failure turns into a resounding success, like this did tonight.

Apple and Bilberry Crisp

250g ginger biscuits
470g jar bilberries, drained
1 Bramley apple

crème fraîche, to serve

Finely crush the biscuits. Peel, core and slice the apple, then put the pieces, mixed with the bilberries, in the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Scatter over a thick layer of biscuit crumbs and bake at 150° for 20 minutes. Serve with crème fraîche.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Super Soufflé

A slow day today - Hubby worked a night shift last night, so the boys and I had to tiptoe around a bit so that he could get some sleep. Not that James can actually tiptoe, or walk at all for that matter. After lunch James had a nap too, so while Christopher played in the garden I did a bit of cooking, when I wasn't being summoned to play 'Yorkshire Bounce', a game Christopher seems to have invented all by himself, the rules of which are a complex mystery to everyone but Chris. I made some lamb stock with the foot and a bit of middle neck from the half lamb we bought yesterday. Lamb stock isn't incredibly useful like chicken stock is, but it's worth having around for things like shepherd's pie and for boosting the gravy when we have roast lamb.

I had planned to make a pilaf with sausage, bacon and black pudding for supper tonight, having all three in the fridge from our jaunt to the butcher's yesterday. These plans were scuppered by Karl coming home and having a BSE (Bacon, Sausage and Egg) sandwich for lunch, then announcing that he'd had a cooked breakfast in the canteen at work before leaving. I don't know how he stays so rail thin, I really don't. Inside he must be half-man, half pork product by now, I'm sure.

So dinner plans needed rejigging. With no time to defrost anything, a cheese soufflé it was. Soufflés have an odd reputation, but they're not hard to make. A soufflé is basically a thick 'flavoured' white sauce with eggs added to it. Cheese is easiest (and my favourite), but cooked flaked fish works well too, as do vegetable purées stirred into the sauce. They are extremely popular with the children, too, which is always good. I mainly do this with mature cheddar, but you can use whatever strong-flavoured cheese you like. It just needs some salad to go with - we had a bowl of Cos lettuce leaves, plus a dish of carrots and radishes and some sliced tomatoes with chopped mint (our current favourite and - to my mind - easily as good as basil with toms).

Cheese Soufflé

75g butter
50g plain flour
1/2 tsp mustard powder
black pepper
100g strong cheese, grated
300ml milk
3 large eggs, separated

Preheat the oven to 200°c and thoroughly grease of a soufflé dish. Put the butter, flour, mustard, pepper and milk into a large saucepan and heat, whisking continuously, until thick, glossy and smooth. Reserve a tablespoonful of the cheese, then beat the rest into the sauce. Set aside while you whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Stir the egg yolks into the cheese sauce and then carefully fold in the whisked whites, one spoonful at a time. Gently pour the mixture into the prepared dish, sprinkle over the reserved cheese and transfer it to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes until risen and golden brown on top. Serve immediately - the success of a soufflé lies in having everyone waiting for it at the table before it is ready.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Max en Pap

Today I did something I've been meaning to do for ages; I went to Farmyard Lamb & Beef in Llanon and bought half a lamb to put in the freezer. For an incredible £20, the butcher prepared a small leg, a shoulder and a saddle of lamb, plus a breast, some cutlets and a few chump chops. There's just something about having a well-stocked freezer that makes me feel (quite paradoxically) warm inside. By my reckoning, the four of us will get ten meals out of that little lot, which works out at a couple of quid per lamb-based meal. As an added bonus, there'll be plenty of bones for a good batch of lamb stock. I'm not sure yet what I shall do with it all, barring the obvious stuff, but inspiration will come along. River Cottage Meat Book here I come!

While we were out we went a little further down the coast to Aberaeron and visited our usual butcher, Owain's. I picked up a big piece of belly pork for Sunday, plus some bacon, sausages and black pudding. No visit to the butcher is, as far as Christopher is concerned, complete without a trip to the park, so we walked along the riverbank to get to the swings and slide.

Before coming home we went to the little fish stall near the marina and bought a couple of locally-caught mackerel for supper. The fishmonger filleted them for me, I struggle enough with bigger fish, never mind fiddly little max! We had bread and salad at home, already prepared and left over from lunch, so I just did something simple that I could knock up quickly after wrestling the assorted bits of sheep into the deep-freeze.

Mackerel 'en Papillote'

mackerel fillets
black pepper

Cut or tear off a large sheet of baking parchment and scrunch it up under the tap to dampen it. Smooth it out, then lay the mackerel fillets on the paper. Arrange a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and some thin slices of lemon on top of the fish, then grind over some black pepper. Wrap the paper up into a parcel, then slide the parcel onto a baking sheet. Bake at 180°c for 10-12 minutes.

Work on one mackerel per person, though the boys shared one between them. Four fillets to a parcel is the maximum I can deal with, so if you have more mouths to feed, make more parcels. If you want to, one parcel per person, served still wrapped on the plate looks very appealing. As I had to cut the children's food up for them anyway, I didn't bother.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Boxing Clever

Our first organic fruit and veg box from the Treehouse in Aberystwyth arrived this morning. It felt like Christmas (albeit a warm and sunny one) as we rummaged through to see what we'd got. Christopher was very excited as he listed all the things he was going to eat and in what order. For a very reasonable £12-00, we got a 'medium mixed box', containing a couple of peaches, a head of Cos lettuce, some broccoli, a bag each of carrots and potatoes, some bananas and apples, a few onions and a bag of lovely little plums. We used some of the lettuce straightaway, to fill, along with some cheese, the last few granary rolls in the bread bin. A nice lunch made nicer by being able to eat in the garden. After lunch Christopher ate one of the apples from the box, while I snaffled a few more of those luscious little plums.

We had a family appointment with the dentist this afternoon, then had a nice walk round town, including a trip to Ultracomida to buy some cheese; a chunk of Gorwydd Caerphilly, easily our favourite Welsh cheese, and a lait cru Camembert de Normandie, one of my real weaknesses.

Supper tonight was in the garden again. We've really got to make up for the weeks of dreadful weather and enjoy the sun while we've got it, so Hubby fired up the barbecue. I made some burgers and prepared some salads. While we were getting minced beef for the burgers (from Rob Rattray on Chalybeate Street in Aberystwyth) we picked up some pork sausages too, which were really tasty; good and coarse. While we were there, Karl spotted some Barnsley chops in the window display, so, being a good Yorkshireman, he had to have one of those too. Bearing in mind that he's not had one in the 8 years we've been together, and only rarely shut up about them in that time, this double lamb chop, cut across the back, had a lot to live up to. I'm happy to say that the tiny taste I got surpassed all my expectations, and I will be happily bringing home the Barnsley chops for future barbecues. We finished off Tuesday's lemon cake for pud.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

A Picnic By the River

Hubby had a really early start at work today, the up side of which was that he was home early in the afternoon. James also had his nine-month check at the baby clinic today, which meant a tedious hour spent hanging around before we were seen and told he was just fine (which I already knew). My mood was not improved by having to go to the supermarket on the way home to stock up on tins, cartons of fruit juice, bags of rice and all that sort of gubbins.

For a more cheering end to the day we decided to take our supper out and have a picnic. I made a Bacon, Pea and Mint Tart and wrapped it, still in the tin, in a double layer of foil. We packed it into the hamper along with some washed Gem lettuce leaves and tomatoes, then drove down to Black Covert near Trawsgoed and sat at one of the tables by the river. The tart was very successful, I was a little worried about how the inclusion of mint would be received, but it worked really well and every last crumb was eaten, Bang go my lunch plans for tomorrow!

Bacon, Pea and Mint Tart

300g plain flour
150g butter
cold water to bind

Make the pastry, roll it out and line a 20cm deep fluted tart tin.

150g bacon, chopped
100g frozen peas, defrosted
few sprigs fresh mint, leaves only
200g crème fraîche
2 large eggs
25g cheddar cheese, finely grated

Preheat the oven, with a baking tray already on the shelf, to 200°c. Fry the bacon in a little oil until just starting to brown. Put the bacon and peas into the bottom of the pastry case, then scatter over the chopped mint leaves. Beat the crème fraîche and eggs together with some black pepper and pour this into the pastry case. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and transfer the tart to the oven, putting it on the hot baking tray. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the surface is nicely browned and the centre of the tart still a little wobbly. Best eaten warm, not hot.

After we'd eaten we played 'football' with Christopher for a bit, then walked down to the edge of the river. Chris was very impressed by his Dad skimming stones over the surface of the water so that they 'bounced'. He was even more impressed by the large splashes he could make by lobbing large stones into the river himself. Poor James was a bit jealous that he couldn't really join in, I think, he got quite cross with us in the end. I had already had to resort to chasing the football around with him in his pushchair (which he loved), but I wasn't taking it into the river, oh no.

A bit Enid Blyton? Probably, but we had great fun and it is definitely something we'll be doing again soon.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

The Lunch Bunch

Mad dash this morning - as I said earlier, I invited some friends to lunch today, possibly unwisely as I had very little food in the house. We're starting a new fruit-and-veg box scheme on Thursday, so I'm waiting to see what's in there before I go to the butchers and stuff.

However, all being equal, I managed to cobble together a pretty respectable lunch; Simple Tomato Soup with some homemade granary rolls and a Lemon Cake for pudding. It went down very well, especially with the children, who both adore the tomato soup. I was very proud of myself for pulling together such a good lunch just from the stores I had in the house (and I was glad I'd picked up some eggs from the village shop yesterday). It was even quite nice getting up before the children stirred, to put the bread machine on to make dough for the rolls. Early morning penking in the kitchen is just the thing to make me feel fabulous, before the day starts and reality kicks in.

This lemon cake is a variation on a Victoria sponge, filled with lemon curd and some gorgeously thick crème fraîche from Rachel's Organic Dairy in Aberystwyth. It does have to be really good, thick crème fraîche, the runnier supermarket half-fat type won't work here. The lemon curd was a half-jarful left over in the fridge. As alway, I used the KitchenAid to make the cake,. but you could equally bung it all in the processor, or even (gasp!) do it by hand.

Lemon Cake

8oz caster sugar
8oz softened butter
8oz self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 eggs
200g crème fraîche (see above)
200g lemon curd

Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Stir the flour and baking powder together, then add the beaten eggs, one at a time, with a spoonful of flour before each addition. Divide the batter between two greased and base-lined sandwich tins (mine, as always, are by Silverwood™) and spread it out, levelling the top. Bake at 180°c for 20 minutes until cooked through, then remove the cakes from the tins and leave on a wire rack to cool completely. Choose your 'best' layer for the upper layer of the cake, then spread crème fraîche over the bottom half, dollop over the lemon curd and swirl it gently through the cream. Add the top sponge and dust with a little icing sugar.

For supper this evening, I cooked Chicken with Rosemary and Red Onion. I took the chicken legs out of the freezer last night, then thickly sliced a red onion and cut some sprigs of rosemary from the garden. Tossed in a little olive oil, they formed a nice base of flavours for the seasoned (no salt, for the baby's sake) chicken pieces to rest on as they roasted for 40 minutes at 200°c. I did some plain brown rice in the rice machine and cooked some frozen broccoli florets.

We had some more lemon cake for pudding. Yum!

Monday, 6 August 2007

Beans means Hotpot

One of the problems with going on holiday is coming home to an empty fridge. Having a well-stocked store cupboard and freezer is the only way to avoid the horror of food shopping with two overtired and fractious children in tow. My store cupboard has been rather less comprehensive of late, as I have been making a concerted effort to curb my food hoarding tendencies and avoid the familiar scenario of twenty-odd open packets in the cupboard and not enough of any one thing to make a meal. I plan only to keep stocks of things I actually use on a regular basis and not things I would like to, or feel I ought to, cook with . This is the problem with so many of the 'essential store cupboard lists one sees in the front of cookery books. If I kitted out my kitchen with all the different things that various authors claim are essential (large selections of vinegars being a particular case in point), I'd have no money left for the meat, fish or vegetables. Let alone the gin and tonic.

So, with some good-quality pork sausages (from Edwards of Conwy) and homemade chicken stock out of the freezer, some tins from the cupboard and herbs from the garden, I made this lovely casserole. The only thing I had to go out for was an onion from the shop in the village, and we needed milk anyway. I made a loaf of bread in the bread machine, with 1 tsp of easy-blend dried yeast, 500g flour, 1 tsp Maldon salt and 350ml water. All in all, a good meal, and for very little effort. I used butter beans, which are Christopher's favourite (at the moment), but cannellini, or any other white beans would work in this dish. I've made it using chickpeas too, which was great, especially when substituting the sausages for chicken thigh portions. It will, of course, need cooking for longer if you do this.

Sausage & Bean Hotpot

1 onion
6 pork sausages
400g can chopped tomatoes
500ml chicken stock
2x400g cans butter beans
thyme and bay
black pepper

Heat a little oil in a big pan and cook the sliced onion until soft. Add the sausages and brown them a little. Tip in the tomatoes and stock and add the herbs and pepper. Bring to the boil and stir in the drained, rinsed beans. Simmer for 20 minutes, then fish out the bay leaves. Serve with something starchy to mop up the juices. Some good crusty bread is easiest, but plain steamed potatoes work really well too.

There were quite a lot of beans in tomato sauce left after we'd eaten, so I shall save those freezer for the boys to have, with toast, as a quick lunch or supper.

Holiday Diary

After spending a week at my Mum and Dad's with the boys, we came home on the Saturday, ready to spend Sunday packing up to go away again on the Monday. We drove up to Yorkshire and pitched camp at Brompton on Swale Caravan and Camping Park, just a few miles outside Richmond. The region is so rich in things to do and see that we were hard pressed to choose just a few, and are already planning a return to the area next year. Richmond itself is a beautiful place, unspoilt (as yet) by the relentless march of chain stores and fast-food restaurants. The views from the castle walk are stunning, and it wasn't too arduous with a toddler and a pushchair in tow. We discovered a fantastic dry goods store, selling everything by weight, and a lovely deli. Yorkshire is, of course, a great cheese-producing area and Swaledale, where we were based, has a few gems of its own. I bought chunks of Swaledale Blue and the local goats' cheese both of which were soft, creamy and extremely good.

We took a long drive out to Whitby later in the week, with fish and chips in mind. It was a very fishy day in the end; as well as lunch at Roberstons Fish Restaurant (where James had his first fish-and-chips), we visited The Whitby Catch and bought some potted shrimps, as well as some fish to take back to the camp for our supper. It was hard to choose what to buy as the selection was so great, but in the end we settled on some beautiful fillets of wild sea trout (or sewin, as it's called in Wales) They even packed it up with a free ice pack to keep it in good condition. When we got back, we fried the fish in a little butter and ate it with some herbed-and-and-buttered new potatoes and a bit of salad.

From Whitby it was just a short trip over to Robin Hood's Bay, to make a pilgrimage to the spot where Hubby
finished Wainwright's Coast-to Coast Walk 10 years ago . He celebrated not having sore feet this time with a pint of Theakston's in the pub overlooking the bay. Christopher poked around in rockpools and shared a lime and soda with his Mum. James, bless him, was fast asleep after a long day.
For a quieter day, we spent the morning in the lovely little town of Reeth. Karl suggested it; he knew it from the good old Coast-to Coast and what a good job he did! There was a small, but brilliant market, where we bought fruit and vegetables, homemade mint and redcurrant jellies, some fantastic beef and more cheese (Wensleydale this time). We also enjoyed a great lunch at The King's Arms, which served particularly good-quality children's meals (Chris chose Yorkshire pudding with sausages and onion gravy), plus there was a fabulous ice-cream parlour and a bakery selling bread made by hand, every day, on the premises.

Our other 'big day out' was a visit to York, where we went to the National Railway Museum in the morning before having lunch in the city and a walk around. The picture was taken just after we'd walked down the Shambles, hence James being asleep (again). Cobbles seem to do that...

It's a shame you can't just stay on holiday forever. Now Hubby's gone back to work, the house looks like Mount Washmore, there's no food in the fridge and I've just rashly invited people for lunch tomorrow. I've never been happier!


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